The purpose of the Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2016 which I am commending to the House is to enable the register of electors to be used for selecting members of the Citizens’ Assembly. The provisions of the Bill are along the lines of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2012 passed by the Oireachtas when arrangements were being made for the membership of the then proposed Convention on the Constitution.
When consideration was being given to the establishment of the Citizens’ Assembly, the Government decided that it should have a membership of 100 citizens, including the chairperson. As set out in the resolution approving the calling of the assembly that has just been passed in the House, the Government will appoint a chairperson. The balance of the membership will consist of “99 citizens entitled to vote at a referendum, randomly selected so as to be broadly representative of Irish society”.
As the Citizens’ Assembly is not established by statute, it is necessary to provide in the Electoral Act 1992 for the use of the register of electors in the selection of the members of the assembly. Section 13A of the Electoral Act 1992 provides that it is an offence to use information in the register other than for electoral or other statutory purposes. Such a statutory purpose is provided, for example, in the Juries Act for the selection of members of juries. As I said, provision was made in the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2012 for use of the register in the selection of members of the Convention on the Constitution.
There is in place an edited register of electors which could have been used in the selection of citizens to serve on the Citizens’ Assembly. That register includes some 320,000 voters who have opted to have their names included on it. However, that is a relatively small percentage of the total electorate of some 3.2 million from which citizens may be selected on the enactment of the Bill.
As for the selection process, a polling company will be commissioned for this purpose. Its brief will be the selection of a representative sample of the electorate in terms of gender, age and regional spread. The selection process will be overseen by the independent chairperson of the assembly.
I will now outline the detail of the Bill for the House. Section 1 amends section 13A of the Electoral Act 1992 by inserting a new subsection into it. This will provide that information in the electoral register may be used for the purpose of selecting citizens of Ireland to participate in the assembly. Section 2 contains standard provisions dealing with the Title, citation and construction of the Bill.
In summary, the sole purpose of this Bill is to provide in statute for the use of the electoral register in the selection of members of the Citizens’ Assembly. The Bill is required to facilitate the establishment of the assembly, the calling of which has been approved now by resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas. I commend the Bill to the House.